Cervelle de Canut

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You may not be surprised to hear that I chose to spend my summer in Lyon not for its culture or nightlife, or for its beauty. I chose it for its food.

Lyon has a long and celebrated culinary history that ties in heavily with the city’s famed silk industry. The silk workers, or canuts, began to occupy the land at the top of the Croix Rousse hill in the 19th century, and have left an indelible stamp on the city, even though there is no silk made here in any meaningful way anymore.

Rather, the canuts came, ate, and shaped gastronomy in Lyon for the next two centuries. Tiny restaurants began popping up all over the city in the 18th and 19th century, serving local working men with tripe and andouillette sausage (made from tripe), as well as a host of other dishes made from cheaper cuts of meat.

These restaurants, usually run by women who had been let go as domestic servants, became incredibly popular and are known today as bouchons. These small, cosy restaurants are dotted around the city and still serve up the same traditional fare as they did in the last few centuries.

Many of the bouchon’s traditional dishes are a touch scary – I, for one, am not sure I’ve got it in me to eat tripe. One, however, is not scary at all, despite its name: cervelle de canut, or silkworker’s brain.

Cervelle de canut is made from a mixture of herbs and faisselles, a kind of fresh cheese that to me sits somewhere between yogurt and cottage cheese. I’m sure it is the kind of thing you could serve as an aperitif but I’ve had it twice now for dinner, sat at the table with a spoon, a baguette, a few bits of cucumber and a bowl of delicious herby cheese.

While you can buy it from the fromagerie or the local market, it’s incredibly easy to make, and it is with that in mind that I share with you the recipe I used.

Note: I used cow’s milk faisselles as I am in France and there’s literally an entire aisle of the supermarket dedicated to fromage blanc. When you inevitably can’t find faisselles in Auckland, you can just use good quality greek yogurt instead – it’s not exactly the same but it’s pretty dang close.

Cervelle de Canut

300g cow’s milk faisselles (or yogurt)
2 big tablespoons of soft goat’s cheese (it needs to be softer than feta – chèvre will be much more suitable)
1 big tablespoon of cream cheese or cottage cheese – just to make it even cheesier
Half a shallot, minced
1 tablespoon parsley
1 tablespoon chives (you can also use other soft frenchy herbs like tarragon or chervil)
2 tablespoons olive oil
splash red wine vinegar
splash white wine
Salt and pepper

This recipe needs no further explanation, really: just put everything in a bowl and stir it till it’s combined, and add more of anything you think it needs more of. You can add some minced garlic as well but I really hate raw garlic so I left it out. Chuck the bowl in the fridge and let it chill out for a couple of hours before you get stuck in – it really needs some time to meld together.

I would go with some fresh bread for an accompaniment, but it also went nicely with cucumber (and will probably be good with a bunch of other fresh vegetables). I paired it with a rosé from Provence the first time and a Picpoul de Pinet the second time – any light, fresh wine with a lot of acidity will work really well here.

 

The Route des Grands Crus

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I am going to deviate slightly from the topic at hand today and instead focus on my other great love, wine.

Sunday night I got back from fulfilling a long-term dream of cycling down the Côte d’Or from Dijon to Beaune. It’s around about a 50km cycle all up (taking into account avoiding the terrifying highway that google was very keen to send me along), making it the perfect two-day jaunt.

For those of you unaware but interested, the Côte d’Or is a limestone ridge in eastern France that is home to some of the most famous vineyards in the world, and makes many of the world’s most expensive wines. It is split roughly into two: the northern end, called the Côte de Nuits, is planted almost entirely to Pinot Noir, and the southern end, the Côte de Beaune, is planted to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

I arrived in Dijon on Friday night, and after checking into my hotel room that smelled like stale cigarettes (vive la France), I went a-wandering. As it turned out, I probably could have spent my whole weekend in Dijon, which was charming af, but duty called and on Saturday morning I tore myself away from the markets and the cobbled streets and the mustard shops with mustard on tap (mustard! on tap!) and began to pedal my way south.

I spent the first 5km or so making my way through the industrial outskirts of Dijon, and then things began to take a serious turn for the vinous. First I tootled through the vineyards of Fixin and Marsannay before arriving in Gevrey-Chambertin – the first really famous village along the Côte de Nuits. After spending about 30 seconds flat riding through the tiny village (as it turned out one of the largest along the way), I popped out into the middle of the grands crus, at the base of Chambertin itself.

I’ve spent a good, solid year or so writing about Burgundy – pouring over books, scouring through tasting notes, noting down soil types – and I can say now with certainty that nothing actually comes close to standing in the vineyard itself. A book is a poor substitute for experience: getting an idea of just exactly how steep these vineyards are (more so than I thought), what the soil looks like, how warm and windy they are in early summer. I pedalled on past my first grand crus with a silly grin.

The road was easy going – just a little bit hilly and for the most part devoid of cars, apart from an old man and a young woman traveling in a maroon Jaguar. I rode through an array of tiny, sleepy villages whose names I have written out hundreds of times – Morey-Saint-Denis, Chambolle-Musigny, Vougeot.

My first proper stop of the day was in Vougeot, a village that did not have any cold drinks for sale anywhere (but then again, neither had any of the others). But what it did have was the Château Clos de Vougeot, a 16th century castle in the middle of the eponymous grand cru vineyard. I had not realised that the château was open to wander around in, and spent a happy and slightly incredulous half hour or so exploring the presses and cellar before pressing on.

After Vougeot was Vosne-Romanée, which is probably the most prestigious of all the villages (I speak only in terms of wine – the village itself was like a ghost town). I rode up the hill to Romanée-Conti, a small plot of 1.71 hectares that makes the world’s most expensive wine, and heeded the small sign that told me to please keep out of the vineyard itself.

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By that point I was parched and pooped and hungry, and it was with considerable relief that I found Nuits-Saint-Georges, the next village and my home for the evening, to be considerably larger than those that had come before. I grabbed some local Epoisses cheese and a baguette, and made my way to the hotel to lie in an air-conditioned room and eat very smelly cheese for a couple of hours. It was bliss.

That night, after exploring the cobbled streets of Nuits-Saint-Georges, I settled in to what turned out to be a four-course dinner at a local brasserie. I ate oeufs en meurette (eggs in a red wine sauce) and boeuf bourguignon, as well as cheese, and ‘cafe gormand’, which as it turns out does not just mean coffee, but coffee with a trio of desserts. After dinner, I trundled my tired, full, sunburned body back to the hotel.

The second day was a little more challenging than the first, because the nice, easy backroute I had been taking through the vineyards petered out somewhat, and I had to make the choice between braving the highway or taking a route through some wheatfields a la Theresa May. I chose the wheatfields.

The hill of Corton with its weird little toupée of woods eventually popped into view, marking the beginning of the Côte de Beaune, and I doggedly pushed my bicycle halfway up the hill before finding a nice, easy track again. From here, I zoomed down the hill into Aloxe-Corton, and from there, it was just a few more kilometres to Beaune, a medieval town complete with ramparts and a now-empty moat.

Once I arrived in Beaune, I gave my bum a much-needed respite from the bike, and wandered around the streets and museums and cellars while munching on quiche and icecream.

It was an incredible weekend. I sat on the bus back to Lyon and reflected on how these much-anticipated trips often disappoint – this one exceeded expectation, despite my exhaustion and my horrible sunburn and the fact that my final meal in Burgundy was a kebab eaten in a bus stop with an audience of pigeons. And because I was on such a high from my weekend, when I got back to Lyon I got this weird rush of “this is home” and felt super content.